Things, stuff, and other items of interest

February 16, 2010

Paranoid delusions on a global scale - or - Part cheeks gently, insert cranium

   With this post, I'm going to take things in a slightly different direction in terms of our usual fare. Anyone who's been reading this site with any regularity will know I have something of a rather spastic attention span. There is no unifying theme that drives this site other than the detritus that emerges from my grey matter like so much municipal sewage into the Ottawa river. That's not likely going to change any time soon, (the website theme or the sewage spills) I still fully expect the scatter-brained approach will continue as before, (again, regarding the website & sewage spills equally) but the range over which that brain will be scattered is going to widen slightly. With this in mind, let us proceed.

In case you missed it, both BoingBoing & Wired ran stories today in honour of the thirty-second birthday of the very first online Bulletin Board System, started back in 1978 by Ward Christensen and Randy Suess in Chicago. This may not mean sweet-bugger-all to most of you, but to those of us who cut our teeth on three hundred baud/bps modems and acoustic couplers this day takes us back to a time when the nerds rolled down that old information highway in style. Or at least, as much style as our pocket protectors and taped up glasses would afford us. Kudos to you lads, thanks for blazing that path where so many now follow.

Things have changed a tad since then of course. These days, all you youngsters go jibber-jabbering about with your social media shenanigans, your blog-o-spheres, your twitter thingies, and your facebook nonsense. I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who gets a little overwhelmed occasionally by the incessant influx of the latest and greatest means of communicating. Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of 'social media', as evidenced by the fact that this is my site you're currently reading. I'm on Twitter and I use it regularly, I check in on Facebook multiple times a week, and at one point I installed Foursquare on my phone for a whole day before I decided I wasn't quite that desperate for external validation. Why I even went so far as to check out Google's latest foray into the social-savy web 2.0 hipsters crowd: "Google Buzz". Fascinating, powerful, arguably the single worst product launch Google has ever had. The only way this could have been a bigger disaster would have been to have Stephane Dion show up and endorse it's low carbon footprint, while Stockwell Day roared around in a wetsuit on an electric sea-doo with a Google Buzz banner flying behind him.

From three hundred baud modems and dial-up BBSs,  to augmented reality and instant global communication, that's a hell of a jump, even more so when you consider the time line involved. Unfortunately, it's not all T1 connections and internet memes though, there are some very real problems that spring up as a result of such rapid progress. Society, culture and the laws that govern them end up lagging behind the ceaseless march of technology, and are forced to play a never ending game of catch-up. This is not a small task by any measure. I could try to wax poetic on the just how important open and free communication is, on how this is a seminal point in communication history. I could make reference to the impact of  previous turning points in history where communication norms were turned on their head, and how that affected the balance of power, culture, religion, society as a whole. The printing press, radio, telelphones, television, it's not over stating the case to say that these technologies and how they were applied changed the course of history. I could wax poetic on all of these things,... or I could offer up examples of others who already have, much better than I ever could:

I find it's often the case that with the 'oh-my-god-the-sky-is-falling-we-need-to-rally-and-hold-a-non-violent-sit-in-protest-immediately' crowd that it's easy to get caught up in the cheering & chanting without actually having a firm understanding of the fundamentals. So as to avoid that here, we'll take a definition from the guy who invented the world wide web:

Net neutrality is this:
If I pay to connect to the net with a given quality of service, and you pay to connect to the net with the same or higher quality of service then you and I can communicate across the net with that quality of service.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee
Inventor of the World Wide Web
Here's another definition from Canada's internet equivalent of the Lone Ranger:

Net Neutrality in Canada is the principle that consumers should control of what content, services and applications they use on the public Internet.
It's a simple concept that has wide-ranging implications on how the Internet operates.
He's kind of like the David Suzuki of Net Neutrality and Canadian Copyright, only our government doesn't completely ignore him. On the contrary actually. Though I doubt he'll be receiving any invitations to dinner at Twenty-Four Sussex any time soon.

I'm a little behind the times in bringing up the net neutrality issue now. At one point, among the geek chic crowd, this topic was quite en vogue. Geek activists got their hackles up, websites were launched, facebook groups were started, emails were sent by the tens.... maybe even hundreds. It's still on the radar, but it's not quite occupying the limelight as much as it did. Why bother bringing it up now? Well, mostly because this is an issue that wasn't really resolved. Oh, yes yes I know the CRTC issued a ruling last fall that directly addressed this issue offering appeasements to both sides while satisfying neither. To be honest, while I wasn't thrilled with the decision in it's entirety, it went further than I expected it to and so had some hope that the CRTC was taking the issue seriously. Problem solved right? Ya,... not so much.

Ok, so the geeks aren't entirely satisfied. Boohoo. What's the worst that's going to happen? They'll throw twenty sided dice at us? The assumption is that big business is going to hustle, bully, bribe & bullshit their agenda through the door eventually right? Beats me. I'm no fortune teller, I can't see the future. I sincerely hope not, if that helps at all. Hard though it may be to believe, it's not actually anything going on up here in the great white north that has me bordering on full-fledged paranoid delusions. Don't get me wrong, we have our problems, and we need to address them post haste, but it could be a lot worse..... we could live in.... Australia!

Surprise! You thought I was going to pull out some hell-hole of a country out of my hat didn't you? Some radical dictatorship where the lunatic fringe holds the reigns of power and force their citizens to sing the praises of the glorious leader through two tin cups tied together with string. Nope. I'm talking about Australia. Democratic, common-wealth member, previously-freedom-loving Australia. The Australian government has decided to implement a nation wide internet filter. They aren't the first to tread this path of course... the governments of China & Iran have already done the initial research for them, so they should save a bundle there. Now I'll be honest here, and be the first to admit I don't understand everything that's involved with this one. I would dearly love to hear from someone with some more information, because it seems like a hard bit of barbecued shrimp to swallow. It would seem I'm not the only one that has some concerns on the matter.  In trying to do some research on this topic, one is quickly left with the impression that just about no media source anywhere has anything nice to say about politics in Australia. Thankfully though, you'll all be happy to hear that it seems the story about the Australian government demanding big breasted porn stars was bullshit. CRIKEY!

Add to the global net neutrality concerns some positively draconian three-strike rules that are currently being considered with favour in the UK & US among other countries as part of ACTA & CETA negotiations and you can forgive a geek for going into a panic over phantom heart palpitations. In the days to come, I'll try to put together a post or two about the following:
  • Online privacy
  • Net Neutrality in Canada
  • The on going ACTA & CETA negotiations
More to the point, I'll try to stress the points of why you should care about these issues, and what sort of impact you can expect from them. I should take this opportunity to point out that any information beyond my usual incessant prattle will largely be taken from the following websites:
Professor Michael Geist's Blog
The Electronic Frontier Foundation
The Office of the Privacy Commissioner Blog
As well as the usual mash up of techie sites and geek blogs. I would urge you to check out these sites for yourself, as I will inevitably do a poorer job of communicating / recycling the information that you can find first hand at these sites.

In an attempt to finish on an high note, you may have heard in the news about some gentlemen who have had the idea of establishing a "neutral territory" for investigative journalists. A type of safe haven if you will. Borrowing the best ideas of freedom of the press and localising it in an effort to ensure it's safety. A lovely idea, though I have my doubts about how effective it would be. I've been accused of being a cynic before though, so you never know. Why not hear their idea direct from the source? Fair warning, it's a little long as this is only the first of 7 parts, but worth a listen if you're so inclined.

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